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Avatar: The Last Airbender

An Informal Review by Andrew Roberts


One small highlight of 2014 was that I finally got around to seeing what could be a contender
for one of the greatest cartoons ever made. I am of course talking about Nickelodeons epic
fantasy, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Yes, you heard me right. Nickelodeon made this.
While the show first aired in 2005, at that point I had stopped watching cartoons other than
The Simpsons, so I definitely wouldnt have looked at something made by Nickelodeon. Nine
years later, I stumbled across it on Netflix following a recommendation from my brother, and
was instantly hooked. Looking back, I realised that if I saw it when it was originally on, I really
could consider the best show ever made. It held up seeing it as a 21 year old, and Im sure
it would have done if I saw it at 12.
Anyway, enough gushing about lost opportunities. Lets talk about the show. This article
contains minor spoilers!

The Premise
Lets discuss the shows premise. In an unnamed world inhabited by numerous animal
hybrids, humanity is divided into four nations based on the elements of nature: The Water
Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Each nation has their own
distinct culture, and there are individuals within each nation known as benders, who can
manipulate the elements through the motions of martial arts. Peace between the nations is
maintained by The Avatar, a being capable of manipulating all four elements. The Avatar
can originate from any of the nations, and when they die they reincarnate. However, when
the Avatar disappeared, the Fire Nation tried to conquer the world and carried out a genocide
against the peaceful Air Nomads.
A hundred years later, the Avatar is discovered in the South Pole encased in an iceberg; a
12 year old Airbender named Aang. When he learns of the war, he has to travel the world
to learn to bend the other elements in order to defeat the Fire Lord. While travelling, he and
his companions partake in numerous diversions. Some of these are filler episodes, while
others advance the story and characters to greater places. There is a lot of build up for some
of the more significant episodes, while the fillers can really shine through on their own.

The Characters
One of my favourite aspects of the show is the memorable characters, whether they are
major or minor.
Aang is a great hero. He has a kind, fun-loving personality and a lot of energy, but can
become very serious when he needs to be. While he is essentially a Chosen One, hes
something of a reluctant hero. In fact, he reveals in the first episode that he didnt want the
power, mainly due to the pacifist beliefs of his Air Nomad heritage. This is explored later in
the first series, when he says that he couldnt take the pressure of the responsibilities his
Avatar status would entail, especially the feeling of isolation that came with it. When his
beloved mentor Gyatso wanted to treat Aang as an ordinary person out of concern for his
mental well-being, the monks planned to relocate Aang, so he fled and later encased himself

in ice to shelter from a storm. He travels on a flying Sky Bison named Appa, and later
adopts winged lemur companion named Momo.
Of course, Aang is not alone in his travels. His closest companions are Katara, a 14 year
old Waterbender who found him in the iceberg, and her older brother Sokka. Katara has a
caring, almost motherly personality, but is easily angered by betrayal. At first, her
Waterbending skill is limited due to the fact that she is the only Southern Waterbender
remaining, but she becomes a true master by the end of the first season. Meanwhile, Sokka
begins as the plucky comic relief, who I wasnt too keen on at first, but his humour grew on
me as I continued watching. He doesnt have any bending abilities, but is nonetheless a
capable fighter and a creative thinker. In the second season, they are joined by a young
Earthbender named Toph, who becomes Aangs teacher in order to escape from her
overprotective parents. Toph is blind, but can see with her feet through her Earthbending.
Shes also tomboyish and confrontational, which frequently puts her into conflict with Katara.
In addition to what later becomes known as Team Avatar, or The Gaang, the show has a
second viewpoint character in the form of Prince Zuko. Starting out as the antagonist, Zuko
is the disgraced son of the Fire Lord who seeks to capture the Avatar to regain his standing.
While obsessed with capturing Aang, he still acts honourably. Its later revealed that he was
once a well-meaning boy eager to take on his roles as prince, but when he questioned a
generals strategy he was challenged to a duel, which he didnt know was against his father.
When he learned the truth, he refused to fight and his father burned his face and banished
him from the Fire Nation. He is accompanied by his uncle Iroh, a kind and eccentric old man
who enjoys the finer things in life but is still an expert fighter. I think Zuko and Iroh are my
favourite characters.

The Story
OK, so Ive already established the premise, but I want to break it down into the three
seasons, referred to as Books. I also want to use the opportunity for picks of the season.
The first season, Book One: Water, involves Aang and his friends travelling to North Pole
so Aang and Katara can learn to Waterbend. Pursuing them is Zuko, but he is facing
competition from a Fire Nation Commander named Zhao, who also wants to capture the
Avatar. The majority of the first series consists of numerous fun adventures the characters
embark upon, but theyre still memorable diversions. The most notable of these would be
The Waterbending Scroll. Katara tries to teach Aang her limited knowledge of Waterbending,
but to no avail. However, when shopping for supplies in a nearby town, they stumble across
a pirate crew selling numerous artefacts, including a scroll with Waterbending techniques.
Katara later steals the scroll and tries to study it. I especially like this episode because it is
showing that it wont force strict morals on audiences, conveying a message that Stealing
is wrong, unless its from pirates.
However, my pick of the first season is The Storm. Aang tells Katara the story of how he
tried to flee from his responsibilities as they shelter from a storm in a cave. At the same time,
Iroh tells several of the crew members on their ship the story of Zukos fall from grace. I find
the episode to profound, because it illustrates how Aang and Zuko are not so different. They
are both ruled by their past mistakes and both trying to hide their guilt. Aang hides behind
fun-loving optimism while Zuko hides behind ruthless discipline. I also like the episode
because it elevated the show into something more than fun adventure.

Season Two deals with the element of Earth. Aang learns how to Earthbend while trying to
learn more about his hidden power, The Avatar State. The series introduces Toph along
with a new antagonist, Princess Azula, who is sent by the Fire Lord to arrest Zuko and Iroh
for treason. Shes a calm and calculated Firebender, which allows her to manipulate
lightning as well as fire, not to mention that she is a cunning manipulator. Meanwhile, Zuko
and Iroh are now fugitives, forcing them to try and start new lives in the Earth Kingdom. My
pick of the season would be Zuko Alone, which plays like a Sergio Leone western. Zuko had
quarrelled with Iroh and left him to strike out on his own. He later travels to a remote Earth
Kingdom village where he protects a family of farmers from a group of boorish soldiers, and
later bonds with the farmers son. It shows Zukos better side, and establishes his nature as
the tragic villain.
Im reluctant to include a pick of the season for Book Three, because I dont want to reveal
any more than I have to. I suppose anyone could guess that it revolves around Aang learning
to Firebend, and that there is a conclusion. However, if I was really pressed, Id say The
Puppetmaster. All I can say about it is Bloodbending. What is that? Youll just have to see
for yourself.

Visuals and Conclusion


The visuals of this show are absolutely stunning. The landscapes look beautiful, and I enjoy
the creativity behind the numerous animal hybrids that populate it. That, combined with the
anime-inspired drawing style give off an air of Miyazaki. Even the less noteworthy episodes
have something good about them. Overall, looking at this show from an adults viewpoint, it
really does feel like it treats young audiences from an adult viewpoint.
Of course, the mythos doesnt end there. The shows creators went on to make another
series called Legend of Korra, which follows a new incarnation of the Avatar. At the time of
writing, I have just finished the second season, but Ill look into it in more detail when Ive
finished it. For now, Ill say its good, but its nothing like Avatar.

All three seasons of Avatar are available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, and I
definitely recommend that you check them out. And if youre on Amazon Instant Video, the
first two seasons of Legend of Korra are available there.

Well, that just about wraps things up. Im now thinking that I should change this series to
Gushing about Shows I like.

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